“If you have half a chance of playing at the highest level you should go over there and test yourself against the best. Ultimately that is going to help Australia perform.” Harry Kewell is quoted as saying in an article written by Michael Lynch in the Sydney Morning Herald, and he is absolutely right.
He may be right, but the football landscape has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. For a start players in Europe can now be paid a better than average wage without playing football, and sadly some players are quite happy to accept the pay and play second fiddle. Others like Mark Schwarzer worked tirelessly to become the number one and maintain their high standards so that they remain in the side. Even while at Chelsea, where he was signed as a back-up, Schwarzer still maintained those standards and was able to perform when called upon.
In addition to the money being paid to be a squad member in Europe, the money in the A-League now is of a level where players who are never going to make it at a European club can make a very good living playing football at home, for essentially five months of the year.
This is where it again comes down to the attitude of the individual. Does he wish to be a big fish in a small pond and stay here and make regular headlines and be assured of a first team place? Or does he want to test his ability and find out how good he can be?
Australia has had many players who have made names for themselves at home head overseas and come back with only a handful of games under their belt, John Kosmina (Arsenal) and Damien Mori (Borussia Monchengladbach) are two such players, both still being great servants to the game.
Yet in the “Golden Era” Australia had more players playing top flight football in Europe than at any other time, it was therefore no surprise that those players achieved the Socceroos highest FIFA ranking, and won their way out of the group stage at the World Cup.
Australian football needs players like Aaron Mooy to head to Europe. As Kewell said “Do our best players have to go away? Not now, because we have got this good league going. But if he really wants to test himself yes, he should go across to Europe and see if he can mix it amongst the best.”
Mooy had a spell with Bolton Wanderers and St Mirren when he was 19/20 years of age. No doubt with hindsight he will have learned a great deal from that time, and will be better prepared second time around.
The key is not just selling him to any club and cashing in on his current form. He needs to find a club where he will continue to develop and will play first team games, and if that is with a Championship side which eventually leads to him being picked up a Premier League side, then so be it. Such a path to the top did not harm Lucas Neill or Tim Cahill.
Australia should not be holding players back, as each talented player who heads to Europe strengthens the national team and also increases the pool from which Ange Postecoglou can select his Socceroos, as another place opens up in the A-league for a player who would otherwise have missed out.
As Harry Kewell was quick to point out a move to China or the Middle East, as was mooted for Mooy, is not a good move for a player’s playing career, even if it is for his bank balance. To many in Europe it shows a lack of ambition. The trouble is that such moves are far more attractive to A-League club owners, who could do with the injection of cash.
So suddenly the issue takes on a very different dimension. Whether the move is best for the player or the club. Then whether the player is pressured into a move by the club to repay their ‘giving him an opportunity,’ or ‘a platform’ to showcase his skills. This is where players need to have good people around them, people who care about their welfare, ensuring a long career, rather than cashing in when the first opportunity presents itself.
Sadly for talented players like Aaron Mooy there is so much more to simply playing football. It comes down to what is most important to them; testing their talents against the best or financial security. If it is the former then the other issues will sort themselves out. A single-minded focussed player will know the path they want and will do all they can to achieve that goal. If a player is not so sure of himself, then sadly he falls prey to many who are in the game only to make money, and that player may find himself pushed and pulled in other directions with money the carrot.
As Kewell quite rightly put it, “who knows what the limitation of a person is, it’s down to them how far they want to take it.”